Sunday, 22 March 2015

Five reasons saying autism isn't a disability is a dick move

Autism isn't a disability!  It's a difference!

How often have you heard that?  It's one of the recurring themes in discussion about ASD, along with person-first language policing and arguments about vaccines/red cordial/smart phones/mobile phone towers/gluten/whatever we're arguing about today.

I think I understand where they're coming from.  They're trying to make a point about how people on the spectrum are as varied and valuable as everybody else even though we're different and society wasn't set up with our needs in mind.  And that's a noble ideal.  It's kind of the point of the social model of disability.

But phrasing it as "autism isn't a disability" throws serious shade on a lot of people on the spectrum, and is kind of a dick move despite the good intentions.

and maybe that's OK

Here are five reasons why:

It's so far from the truth it'll discredit the point you're trying to make

If your own ASD (or your child's,partner's, friend's, or your neighbour's babysitter's niece's), isn't a disability, good for you.  That's awesome.  Go on with your good self.

But for a lot of people, ASD is genuinely disabling.  The degree of disability will vary enormously, as will the form it takes - they don't call it a spectrum for nothing - but disability is still a part of the picture.

Autism's not a weird, rare, unknown disorder anymore.  Most people know something about it.  Hell, most people know someone on the spectrum.  A fair chunk of the lay public already has some sort of handle on the sort of challenges ASD brings, even if it's a stereotypical kid-centric view.  So if someone says "it's not a disability", the listener is going to think "well, that contradicts my lived experience/the family next door/what I heard on the news last night, so this person obviously doesn't know what they're talking about". 

And that's a fair point, because...

You have no idea whether or not another person is disabled

Whether a person has disability is a matter for them, their health care providers and support team, and in some circumstances their family or wider network.  The opinions of some random person on the internet or in a supermarket are not relevant.  Not only do you not have the experience, training or skills to make that call, it's none of your damn business.

So, you don't get to make a call on whether or not ASD is a disability, and issue a sweeping statement defining the disabledness of other people.  None of us have the One True Experience of being on the spectrum.


Which brings us to...

You're implying those who are disabled fail at ASD

Not everyone on the spectrum has wikkid mad skillz.  We don't all have high IQs, or we might have high IQs but be unable to apply them due to shenanigans with sensory processing, language, executive function or other things that one needs to get by.  Relatively few of us are savants. 

And you know what?  We still deserve to exist.  We don't have to have some mindblowing splinter skills to offset the inconvenience of our existence, or some amazing gift to offer the world by way of an apology for our difference.

Some people on the spectrum are disabled.  That doesn't mean they're Doing Autism Wrong.

You're making life harder for people on the spectrum who need support

You know who'd love to hear all about how ASD isn't a disability?  People who are looking for a reason to not employ us, not include us, not educate us, to withhold the accommodations and consideration we need to be contributing members of society.  Maybe even the service providers who are stretched to their limit and need to make a decision about which cases they turn away today.

If you don't need support, consider yourself lucky because there are a lot of people on the spectrum who really do, and a lot who aren't getting it or who have to fight for it every step of the way.  Why make their lives more difficult, by giving ammunition to those with a vested interest in not helping?


Your ableism is showing

How'd this idea even start?  Why are some people on the spectrum so keen to point out it's not a disability?  Is it because they see disability as something lesser, shameful, unpleasant, something they'd like to distance themselves from?

There is still a big, big stigma around disability, especially developmental and cognitive disabilities.  But saying "we're not like those people!" isn't going to break it down, it's just going to reinforce the idea that being one of 'those people' is a bad thing.